Feb 12 2014

How to make the most of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2014

Published by at 8:53 am under Events


The Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2014 is on October 1 to 5 — and it’s never too soon to get planning. Here are our suggestions for getting the most out of the festival, which can be a very intense, fast moving four days and nights of panels, events and fun.

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What do you MEAN you didn’t finish The Luminaries? What about The Goldfinch?

First up — try to volunteer! It’s getting more competitive to win a spot, but loads of volunteers are needed so it’s worth giving it a shot. If things stay the same this year, you’ll need to work four lots of four-hour shifts. This may seem a lot, but it’s spread across days and evenings, so in the end you’ll still have loads of time to attend other stuff, and depending on what you’re doing, you may be able to swap shifts if you’re rostered on during an event you really do want to see. Volunteering gives you a free pass to the normal panels held each day — not the paid for events, though if you get lucky, you might be scheduled to work on one of these. You’ll get a meal included in each shift as well.

Beauty around every corner, etc.

Beauty around every corner, etc.

Whether you’re volunteering or not, it’s never too early to start your planning. Pay attention in August when the programme is released to see which authors are confirmed so you can read their works ahead of time — obviously, it makes a real difference if you know the works that are being discussed. Though don’t be disappointed if writers flagged early on drop out at the last minute — schedules change (eg Five Star Billionaire‘s Tash Aw dropped out last year, for instance.)

Once the programme is out, act fast! Events, particularly for children, book out quickly. You may want to see what events you simply must attend first to snap up tickets, then carefully plan what panel sessions you’ll attend around those. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and go see authors you’ve never heard of before — at least on the panels, perhaps less so the paid events — and attend at least a few panel topics you aren’t so sure about. These can turn out to be some of the best experiences you’ll have.

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Yoga at Taksu is good — but save it for before or after the festival.

It really is worth splashing out for the some of the paid events, especially for an author you love. Last year Lionel Shriver in conversation with Jennifer Byrne was an amazing candlelit evening at Indus. Yes, you could have seen her with Chip Rolley the next day, but somehow it wasn’t as special as a tete-a-tete led by one of Australia’s best interviewers talking to Shriver after they’d both enjoyed a glass of wine or two. And I still remember a pricey but fabulous lunch (or was it afternoon tea?) a few years ago at the stunning Maya with Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil author John Berendt.

When it all gets too much — it can be a bit overwhelming — take a break. Do research ahead of time on where to have a good massage or perhaps a yoga class. Last year we popped into a place opposite Indus that was way expensive and not that special — we would have been better off heading up to Spa Hati.

Retreat to Spa Hati for some pampering.

Retreat to Spa Hati for some pampering.

Stay close to the venues to minimise time in traffic, which can get pretty hideous in Ubud, and pay attention to where the shuttle bus routes are, so you don’t have to limit yourself to the area directly around the venues. Last year the shuttle picked up and dropped off at Casa Luna — we stayed at one of our favourite Ubud cheapies, Ubud Lestari, which was perhaps just a bit too far to walk, but manageable. Anywhere along the Casa Luna end of Monkey Forest Road works well.

Ubud Lestari's pool -- only stay here if you can get one of the four rooms overlooking the pool.

Ubud Lestari’s pool — only stay here if you can get one of the four rooms overlooking the pool.

What should you budget to spend? Once you’ve covered the cost of your ticket, you can get away with spending from around 150,000 rupiah and up per night for basic accommodation — of course you can go way higher than this and splash out on a villa or fancier hotel with stunning views and sumptuous surrounds as well, but really, you won’t spend much time in your room, so you may want to tack on an extra night or two at the end of the festival to stay somewhere special — no doubt you’ll have bought a whole stack of new books, so why not spend a few days by the pool reading them?

Food can be very inexpensive and there’s plenty available near the festival venues — it’s alcohol that really does the budget in. (If you like to drink, make sure to bring in a bottle of duty-free spirits to keep you going.) As with hotels, when it comes to restaurants you can live large as Ubud plays host to several of Southeast Asia’s best restaurants, we reckon. Mozaic is an institution and if you’re going to splurge somewhere, well worth it. A more budget-friendly alternative, and still fantastic, is relatively new Locavore. You’ll have to book ahead for each. Other Ubud restaurants we love are Naughty Nuri’s (watch out for the martinis — they can really knock you around) and Clear Cafe (a bit of a hike from the festival but with great raw and vegetarian food).

However you end up spending the festival, you'll come away the richer for it.

However you end up spending the festival, you’ll come away the richer for it.

Of course Ubud offers plenty to see, but we’d suggest again allowing a few days pre- or post-festival for this as the days and nights are packed with scheduled stuff.

In short, planning is key. Get in early to volunteer, book accommodation well ahead of time, work out what restaurants you want to try, what sights to see, and study, study, study that programme!

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